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Billboard’s classical albums chart may not be a go-to destination for most in the music business these days, but the industry is taking notice of the latest collection to hit the No. 1 spot: the soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s newest movie, Moonrise Kingdom.
After six weeks of release, it tops two charts — classical albums and traditional classical albums — and has sold a total of about 9,755 units through July 11, according to label ABKCO. (It’s worth noting that the film had a very limited opening until its wide release June 29.) Music from composer Benjamin Britten juxtaposed by country icon Hank Williams‘ lonesome howl sets the tone for Anderson’s romantic New England vision of a boy and girl’s stormy runaway adventure, along with one piece of pop — Yé-yé girl Françoise Hardy‘s “Le Temps de l’Amour” — and film composer Alexandre Desplat‘s original suite, “The Heroic Weather — Conditions of the Universe.”
Randall Poster, the film’s music supervisor, has worked with Anderson on nearly every one of his feature films, and Moonrise Kingdom is their sixth together. Their relationship, which Poster describes as his “most abiding collaboration,” began in 1996 when the two met as Anderson was finishing work on his first movie, Bottle Rocket. Poster was so taken with the film that he volunteered his services to the director, promising that he would obtain licensing for any track the auteur wanted.
Poster’s career started with the 1990 feature A Matter of Degrees, which he co-wrote and co-produced soon after graduating from Brown University. The soundtrack, released by Atlantic Records with songs by the Pixies, Yo La Tengo, The Lemonheads, Uncle Tupelo and Alex Chilton, overshadowed the movie itself, beginning a soundtrack and compilation boom that would last for much of the decade.
“That was the moment when college radio was becoming alternative music,” Poster tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was a very exciting time in music — a kind of renaissance of the independent label… I came out of that and really wanted to work with great filmmakers and I figured if I became expert at doing music in movies, it could be the vehicle that would allow that to happen.”
Nearly 100 movie soundtracks later — including Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, Sam Mendez’s Revolutionary Road, Todd Haynes‘ Bob Dylan-inspired biopic I’m Not There and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo — Poster is living that very dream. But his work with Anderson stands out. Fans may recall some of Poster’s best work in the Life Aquatic character of Brazilian artist Seu Jorge, who sings David Bowie covers in Portuguese, the classic Bollywood sounds accenting The Darjeeling Limited and Rushmore’s use of Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” and “Here Comes My Baby,” which Poster claimed as his biggest sync achievements to date — having procured permission at a time when Yusuf Islam (formerly Stevens) was denying nearly every licensing request.
Today, he boasts credits on such critically lauded cable fare as Boardwalk Empire and Mildred Pierce, diving deep into history to find the appropriate music to fit. “Period pieces sort of become akin to being in school and doing academic research,” he says. “It’s reading books, going to performing arts libraries, trying to find people who are experts in a field or in a particular area or time frame.”
With Moonrise Kingdom, however, the soundtrack’s music functioned in a unique role as a muse for film. Anderson’s script was inspired in part by a production of Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde” opera of Noah’s Ark, which he and his brother had acted in as children. Fittingly, as the film’s young heroes run away while a record-level hurricane approaches their small New England island, Poster used Britten’s youth choir numbers to develop a musical theme for their plight, emoting the most playful and harrowing scenes. As bookends to the film, Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, play earnestly, teaching the complexities of classical music as if an education on life’s intricacies could be just as easy.
Uncharacteristic when compared to Poster’s past soundtracks with Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom is filled almost entirely with classical music. (Between Britten’s numbers and Desplat’s tempestuous suite, pieces by Mozart and Schubert carry the film with a serious tone that benefits the story and its young actors.) The main exception here is William’s forsaken ballads that haunt the Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) as an extension of his character, following him with songs such as “Kaw-Liga” and “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” to accent his loneliness. Though they tried using a variety of artists’ songs, Poster says none were as fitting as Williams’ lovelorn laments.
Completing the soundtrack was undoubtedly one massive undertaking, which makes its chart success all the sweeter. Says Poster: “Wes and I were delighted to hear we hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Classical chart. Benjamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein must be smiling down upon us! We’re just so happy that people are enjoying the music. All power to the great maestro Alexandre Desplat!”
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